Darren Oliver’s Been Retiring For Six Years

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Darren Oliver is the Brett Favre of useful journeyman middle relievers.

For individuals like Favre, Michael Jordan, Bill Parcells and Oliver, retirement is a state of mind, state of being, alluring option, threat, or all of the above.

But there are differences in status and need.

The Packers had to take Favre’s annual vacillation because they had no choice. The last time he tried it with them in 2008, they walked away, shunning Favre and avoiding the organization-wide distraction that had the potential to split the club into destructive factions. If they let him do it again, they knew it would repeat in 2009, 2010, 2011 and possibly never end until Favre was carted off the field once and for all. Most importantly, the last time Favre pulled the trick (with the Packers anyway—he did it twice more with the Jets and Vikings), Aaron Rodgers was ready and they finally told Favre to take a hike.

Jordan’s return with the Bulls was understandable considering that he retired at age 29 and did so, in part, because of his father’s death. When he came back again, it was with the Wizards and he was a part owner of the club with the biggest selling point he had to make more money for himself was…himself.

Parcells’s personality and energy levels were such that a team could only deal with him for 3-4 years and he’d only last there for 3-4 years. It was a trade they made for his acumen at rebuilding moribund franchises in exchange for the public insubordination, power struggles and behind the scenes complaints about the one thing that was always first and foremost in his mind: money.

Oliver isn’t in the conversation with the above examples and isn’t as costly. He’s a reliable, versatile veteran reliever who’s well-liked by his teammates and by baseball in general. The Blue Jays would miss him, but would there be a drastic difference in the clubhouse or on the field if he’s not there? Probably not.

But Oliver is making an unreasonable demand/threat to be traded to Texas to pitch closer to home for the Rangers or he’ll simply retire from the Blue Jays. It’s nervy of Oliver to make a request for a raise when he signed the contract with the Blue Jays for a guaranteed $4.5 million after 2011 and was leaving the club he wants to rejoin, the Rangers. He made $4 million in 2012, had a buyout for $500,000 and an option for 2013 at $3 million. Oliver equates this as a paycut, but would he not have signed if the deal was reversed and he got $3 million in 2012 with $4 million in 2013? He could have stayed in Texas after 2011 if he wanted so badly to be in Texas. That he went all the way to Canada isn’t the same thing as him having signed with, for example, the Cardinals. He went to the Blue Jays for the money. Now he wants more money or to be sent back to the Rangers. There’s no harm in asking, but it speaks of an entitlement that, in other industries and for a non-essential cog, would be responded to with an angry frown and a “get outta here” reply. In sports, it’s seen as nothing unusual.

With the new thinking in baseball having been imported from other industries using data, corporate terminology and separation of channels, the one remaining obstacle to that complete transformation is the athletic ego and short-term nature of an athlete’s ability to contribute. In banking, Oliver’s age of 42 is judged as in his prime; in sports, it’s ancient. As lucrative as his contract seems, perhaps he’d like to go back to Texas to take advantage of the no-state income tax and not have to pay to live away from home, amid other factors that are costing him more money and giving him less take-home pay.

Oliver has “retired” and unretired when it’s suited him. Now he’s again telling the Blue Jays that he’s not going to pitch for them one way or the other, so they might as well trade him to Texas.

It’s an empty threat that the Blue Jays aren’t going to bow to. In fact, given his history and that he’ll have the option of collecting $3 million plus the very real opportunity at a post-season share or going home, he’ll shrug and pitch for the Blue Jays and then sign with the Rangers again after the season after “contemplating” retirment.

There’s no reason for the Blue Jays to entertain this somewhat absurd request because, in the end, Oliver will likely be sitting in their bullpen on opening day.

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Stephen Strasburg As The Formative Brett Favre

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Is the media really starting with the Stephen Strasburg-hype again?

It’s the same amount of attention that Brett Favre used to get in the interest of webhits and pageviews, except it’s at the beginning of Strasurg’s career and not a vacillating “will he or won’t he” retire or play again that was (and is) the norm with Favre.

I don’t want to hear it.

The attention doled out to this pitcher is ludicrous. It happened last year as the Nationals had all sorts of on and off-field rules as to his usage and access; designated times when he would speak and when he wouldn’t.

It was as if they had him in a cage like a prize stallion that they never intended to race, but were going to put out to stud.

Now the weather is playing a part in “will he or won’t he?” pitch today. Will Mother Nature be so cruel as to deprive us of seeing Strasburg for the 75 pitches he’s going to be allowed to throw?

I pulled 75 out of my behind; the truth is, we don’t know what the Nats have planned as an arbitrary number chosen to keep him “healthy”— those random limits that worked so well in keeping him healthy before he blew out his elbow a year ago.

If you continually pay attention to this in anything other than an “oh him” kind of way, you’re playing into what the likes of ESPN want; they want people to click onto their site and read the little bits of nothing they (mostly) unskillfully present.

I’ll watch Strasburg pitch (if Mother Nature isn’t cranky and ruins our fun) because he’s a brilliant talent with a bright future once they take him out of the “Joba”—my nickname for the stone sarcophagus in which Joba Chamberlain was placed for his “protection”. The Joba Rules didn’t work on Joba either.

I’m not going to watch because of the endless promotion Strasburg is receiving.

This media circus is working in one respect: it’s got people paying attention to it for reasons other than what success he achieves for himself and his team. That aspect of his career won’t be known for awhile—or at least until they decide to take off the handcuffs and let him pitch.

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Strasburg’s Coming Back—Get The Hype And The Pitch Counts Ready

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So what’s the pitch count going to be for Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg‘s return to the big leagues?

Will the hype for his comeback from Tommy John surgery match that which surrounded him from his drafting to his rise to the big leagues?

Far be it from me to roll my eyes at the media circus that surrounds certain players, but this Strasburg madness is a repeat of the same silliness that accompanied him when he first came into the public consciousness as a college player; the same reaction when Joba Chamberlain became a phenomenon with the rules and regulations that dictated his use.

Eventually people tire of the hype for hype’s sake and move onto something else. This summer a similar media darling (whose mere mentioning begets a large number of readers and webhits—shocker!!) Brett Favre has had his name prominently suggested in a “Will he come back?!? Dum dum DUUUUM!!!!” style story.

In prior years, Favre has created much of that himself with his retirements and unretirements, but this time he’s said he’s done and hasn’t even implied anything to the contrary.

But the stories keep popping up.

I like watching Strasburg pitch, but we’re talking about someone who had a serious injury; was babied before that serious injury; is going to be babied more now; and is pitching for a team that’s going to end up about 30 games out of a playoff position.

It’s a diversion and not worth the attention it’s getting as it approaches.

But the machine is going to spin for the purposes of gaining readers, viewers and tickets sold.

It’s already starting and isn’t going to stop.

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Hate The Game, Don’t Hate Tim Tebow Or ESPN

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Having heard what ESPN football analyst Merril Hoge said about Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, I don’t see what the big deal is. He stated his opinion about whether or not Tebow’s style will work in the NFL. (He doesn’t think it will.)

You can listen to a small portion of what Hoge said on the Mut and Merloni radio show on WEEI here.

Naturally others chimed in as the story took on a life of its own and none other than LeBron James took to Twitter to defend Tebow.

Much of the vitriol directed at Tebow is similar to the hate that engulfs Brett Favre and Alex Rodriguez—they get a lot of attention from ESPN.

What you need to realize is that the likes of A-Rod, Tebow and Favre are only playing an off-field game that’s not a competition, but is a business.

Tebow, A-Rod and Favre generate attention, webhits, ratings and the resulting advertising dollars. These things are studied, paid attention and adhered to. So when ESPN is called “NESPN” and is accused of catering to the Red Sox, it’s not done out of allegiance; it’s done because that’s what people search for. Once that stops, so too will the non-story-stories that pop up all over the place.

People were interested in the Colby Rasmus and his dad Tony Rasmus and Colby’s departure from the Cardinals; how their father/son/coach relationship affected the Cardinals organization and manager Tony LaRussa.

It’s a terrific tale of a Hall of Fame manager clashing with the dad of a hot prospect.

Because that’s what was in demand, that’s what was provided. It’s purely democratic and is how lines get blurred with what’s legitimate reporting or wagging the dog to deliver a fast food style meal for the web surfers.

Who knows whether Tebow can play in the NFL or not? There have been players who were supposed to be stars in every sport but haven’t for one reason or another; the same thing works in the opposite direction as there are athletes from whom nothing is expected and they suddenly burst onto the scene due to late development, opportunity or connecting with the right coach/manager/team at the right time.

Don’t blame Tebow or ESPN. Blame yourself for partaking in it.

If you’re going to ESPN for hard-hitting sports journalism, then you deserve your fate.

Ignore it and it’ll go away.

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Teams Are What They Are

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Some would-be “experts” might not want to indulge in a stroll down memory lane, but if you look at clubs before the season and in April and May, you’ll see such teams like the Orioles, Royals, Nationals and Mariners who were playing over their heads and eventually fell back into what they are.

Other clubs have talent but excuses for their failures. The Athletics, Dodgers, White Sox and Rockies can be reasonably placed into this category. Without going into detail, you can look at a team like the A’s—who were overrated for numerous reasons—and say that the injuries to their pitchers Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson hurt them on the mound; that the slow starts from Josh Willingham and David DeJesus robbed them of an improved offense.

The White Sox have been a dysfunctional train wreck for whom GM Kenny Williams is about to hit the trapdoor to send his players—en masse—into his James Bond villain style trap of crocodiles with laser beams attached to their heads.

The Dodgers are mired in (Mc)Court with legal proceedings hovering over them. In fairness, had they stayed healthy, they had a chance to be pretty good. (And I’m not pulling a Francesa and saying that because I picked them; it’s true.)

Certain clubs regularly straddle the line between good and mediocre and they do it on an annual basis; they’re treading the fine line between being deadline buyers and sellers. The Rockies are one such club.

Then there are teams for whom the writing was on the wall if you chose to read it. The concept of the Astros replicating the 2009 Padres and making drastic improvement because of a strong second half the previous season was idiotic.  The Padres had a lot of talent to justify their play; the Astros didn’t. It was a groundless, baseless assertion that came from absolutely nothing other than both playing well for a memorably stretch; there was no context, nothing.

And finally there are the overachievers. The Pirates have been around .500 and near first place when no one expected them to do so. While they’ve slumped lately, they gave their fans a reason to think they could get better eventually. The Mets have played above their heads in the face of rampant injuries; they overcame a horrific start and legal/sale issues of their own to play respectably.

The Diamondbacks have been a revelation.

No matter how a knowledgable voice comes to his conclusions, there are bound to be deviations; but for the most part, teams are going to play up to their talent levels. Did anyone believe that the Red Sox were going to have an off year after their atrocious start? With that talent?

Who saw Albert Pujols having the year he’s had?

That the White Sox would’ve gotten similar production had they chosen to the pitcher hit rather than using Adam Dunn as their DH?

Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia doing the work they’ve done for the Yankees?

Joe Mauer being booed?

There’s a reason they play the games and no one’s infallible, but with a fundamental understanding of players and people you can—within a framework—pigeonhole clubs and players as to where they’re going to be and what they’re going to do.

For many, that fundamental understanding is missing, clouded by a smug arrogance and a refusal to admit that they may be wrong.

Either they’re pledging allegiance to a corporate entity nudging them into a certain direction (the Favre Effect of needing webhits and ratings) or they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Or both.

Will they admit they were wrong? Will they come up with a nonsensical caveat? Will they cling to their agendas regardless of reality?

It depends. The insecure, egomaniacal and partisan will justify themselves like a paid endorser; the truth-tellers with self-belief and confidence will admit mistakes and chalk them up to experience.

It depends one where you’re getting your information and what you believe.

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Precision Strikes 5.30.2011

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Let’s address some stuff. In brief.

The true test with big name trades.

Jose Reyes on a hot streak begets endless stories of how the Mets “have” to sign him.

The Mets don’t “have” to do anything other than what’s best for the franchise. If that means trading Reyes, then they should trade Reyes. If that means keeping Reyes, then they should make every effort to keep Reyes.

With the new minority owner David Einhorn about to infuse the club with much-needed cash, it leaves the Reyes decision in the hands of GM Sandy Alderson; presumably, Alderson will make his call based purely on baseball-related matters.

Reyes has been great all season long but that can only enhance his trade value and perhaps give the Mets more incentive to trade him.

Hypothetically, if a team hungry for offense like the Angels comes calling in desperation and offers a package that includes say Mike Trout (unlikely) and/or Jean Segura (nod to Peter at Capitol Avenue; I had no idea who Segura was and kinda still don’t; his numbers look “young Reyes-like” though), then that would be another mistake on the Mets docket, this one made by the new management team stemming from failing to act.

It’s hard to do, but one of the reasons the Rays, Marlins and to a certain extent, the Red Sox have been so successful within certain parameters of belief on how to run their franchises is that they either don’t have a fan base that is so frantic at the prospect of trading anyone and everyone as is the case with the Rays and Marlins; or do what they feel is right based on current circumstances, like the Red Sox.

This is the tack the Mets need to take with Reyes, Carlos Beltran and any other player in whom opposing clubs are interested—keep and open mind in every conceivable aspect.

Business is business; annoying is annoying.

I understand ESPN’s need for cross-promotion, but it’s gone from necessary to ego-driven to over-the-top and has entered into the airless vacuum of content which you can’t even pay attention to anymore.

Never mind the impropriety of sports reporters cozying up to athletes about whom they’re supposed to provide objective analysis (if such a thing even exists anymore, anywhere other than here); forget the coverage of convenience that occurs when lust-target Brett Favre emerges from his lair.

Ignore all of that.

When you log onto ESPN.com or watch, listen or read any of their demographically dominated entities, you have to know what you’re walking into; but is it necessary for me to have to endure the rollover ads with the unfunny Kenny Mayne talking about Van Heusen shirts in his canned deadpan? Do I have to see Chris Berman’s smug countenance hawking Nesquik?

I log onto ESPN.com because I have to; I’m not a reporter nor do I want to be one; the sad part is, it’s getting so ESPN’s reporters—many of whom are or were of high-quality—are sucked into editorial edicts or goofy commercials because they have no other option either.

It took nearly 7 years, but…

I saw this on Twitter:

Scott Kazmir 2 1/3 innings 10 earned runs tonight. In two starts for Salt Lake, 4 innings 16 earned runs.

When the Mets traded Kazmir to the Devil Rays for a package led by Victor Zambrano, it was called one of the worst trades in baseball history.

Maybe it was.

But now, nearly 7 years after the fact, it’s a safe bet that Zambrano is now better than Kazmir.

As far as I know, Zambrano is retired.

Maybe the Mets “College of Cardinals” front office who pushed the deal through knew something?

Okay, we won’t go that far.

The only thing remaining for Kazmir is some Ben Sheets-style surgical procedure whether he needs it or not. Apart from that, I dunno what else can be done with him after the Angels release him—an unavoidable occurrence is assuredly on the horizon.

Sometimes there is justice.

Am I the only one who finds it funny that Jonny Gomes is batting under .200 for the struggling Reds and is losing playing time to the underrated Fred Lewis?

That the Reds are considering an offensive upgrade because of Gomes’s struggles?

That the Cardinals are rolling along in first place after a spring training incident in which Gomes sang and celebrated the season-ending injury to Cards ace Adam Wainwright?

Wainwright’s out for the year because of injury; Gomes may soon be sitting because he’s been awful.

I call that street justice.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here and recently received a 5-star review on Amazon.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Wuv Wu!!!

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The hug heard round the universe has created aftershocks that will likely be the genesis of newly formed galaxies.

Billions of years from now the debate will center on intelligent design; accident of circumstance; or Jim Hendry and Albert Pujols‘s pre-game hug as the Cardinals arrived in Chicago to play the Cubs.

The evidence follows.

Let’s hope it’s never destroyed or that the messenger isn’t targeted.

How long did the hug last?

Who initiated said hug?

Was there a surreptitious contract offer or solicitation implied in the placement of hands? Did Cubs GM Hendry whisper to Pujols, “You’re a pretty good player; we might pursue you after the season,”?

It’s a good thing that Pujols didn’t hug Colonel Gaddafi as did the tribal leaders who met with the Libyan leader did in a video clip released today—BBC.co.uk.

Worse yet, either man could’ve made the mistake of hugging Harold Reynolds.

And ESPN, oh boy ESPN, has taken this to heights previously reserved for Brett Favre’s choice between Cocoa Puffs and Cocoa Krispies. Had they thought this through, they could’ve made THE HUG into a trifecta of manufactured nothingness with a non-story twisted into a story; the rampant discussion and attention paid to the non-story as if it was an actual story; and Favre.

There’s no analysis here; there’s probably no ulterior motive; and if there is, who cares?

This can be turned into an agenda-twisted metaphor for the discouraging culture of fraternization; it can be made into a threat against the Cardinals from Pujols (“Look where I can go if you don’t pay me!”); or it could be an attempt to bolster the sagging morale of Cubs fans of a bright future ahead with Pujols.

Or it could’ve been a chance occurrence that the participants are using to their individual advantages.

So Albert Pujols hugged Jim Hendry.

So what?

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Priorities And Necessity

Books, Management, Players, Spring Training

On the surface there’s nothing wrong with playing a little hoops in the off-season to stay in shape and mess around a bit, but now that Zack Greinke is out for 4-6 weeks with a cracked rib, it’s not the teams that have to insert the language into a contract to preclude such activities, but the players who have to think before they engage in them.

There’s not much a team can do to curb a player from doing whatever in the off-season. Hypothetically, if the words “no basketball” or some other all-encompassing phrasing—barring basketball, rugby, skydiving, bungee jumping, rappelling, full-contact karate, ultimate fighting, tennis, bowling, alligator wrestling, chainsaw juggling, spelunking or participating in archaeology digs—were included, a player in Greinke’s stratosphere would shrug and do it anyway; he’d be safe in the knowledge that the team needs him and, barring a catastrophic, season/career-ending injury, the worst he’d get is fined a negligible amount from his massive salary.

That’s the point.

Aaron Boone and Ron Gant were released because they suffered injuries in an off-field activity—Boone was playing basketball; Gant was riding a dirt bike; Jeff Kent injured himself riding his motorcycle, lied about it saying he fell while washing his car and nothing of significance was done.

Why?

Because one was Jeff Kent—possibly a Hall of Fame infielder with power who was an integral part of the Giants hopes for contention; the other two were Aaron Boone with the powerhouse Yankees and Ron Gant with the dominant Braves.

What are the Brewers going to do and say about this other than what they’ve said and done?

GM Doug Melvin was quoted in this ESPN Los Angeles Story:

“It doesn’t matter how he hurt it.”

“This is part of what we go through as a GM.”

As much as he was savaged for it, another Wisconsin athlete—Brett Favre—uttered a statement that could’ve been attributed to any big time athlete whose value to his team is more than rules and contracts can constrain; while he was vacillating on retiring or playing a few years ago (insert joke here), Favre said (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “What’re they gonna do? Cut me?”

And he was right.

The Brewers need Greinke to compete; with Prince Fielder in his final year in Milwaukee, the window for this team’s current structure is closing; without Greinke, they’re screwed.

Because of that, they’ll take the pain—literally and figuratively—and move forward; when Greinke’s ready to pitch, he’ll pitch. Rib problems are no joke—Jacoby Ellsbury can attest to that; the Brewers can only hope that Greinke will be healthy and the issue won’t linger; that he didn’t hurt his arm while pitching through the pain; that he won’t enter a local rodeo in his downtime and break his valuable right arm.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon.


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